According to a study presented May 2, 2009, at the American Geriatrics Society annual meeting in Chicago, retirees over 65 who volunteer are living to an older age compared to their peers who do not volunteer.
The study, conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center, included 6,360 retirees who were enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study in 2002. The average age of the study subjects was 78.
Although that study did not examine the reasons for the health benefits of volunteering, other studies have. The Corporation for National and Community Service compiled findings of 30 such studies in a report, The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research. Among the findings:
- Volunteers have better social networks as they get out and interact with others
- Social engagement results in reduced stress
- Volunteering leads to a more active lifestyle—both physically and mentally—which reduces risk of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and depression
- An active lifestyle also helps boost the body’s immune system, protecting against infection and illness
- Volunteering builds self-confidence, self-worth and self-identity and proves to seniors and others that they still have much to offer
More than 26 million senior citizens in the U.S. have already discovered the rewards of volunteering, from tutoring students to serving food in a soup kitchen, running a church rummage sale, recruiting donors for a blood drive or helping with a fund-raising campaign.
In addition to providing seniors the time to volunteer, in-home caregivers can transport seniors to volunteer sites. And for those who have difficulty getting out, volunteer organizations offer opportunities that seniors can do at home. These include knitting blankets for a fund-raising sale or to give to nursing home residents, cooking meals for church members who have just returned home from the hospital, or stuffing envelopes for a mailing.
The opportunities are practically endless. Schools, nonprofit organizations, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, animal shelters and even businesses all welcome volunteer help and value seniors’ experience. With so many ways to give to others and receive health benefits in return, it is time for seniors to find out how an in-home caregiver can help them find the time to volunteer.